(This is an imported post from my old blog Nov. 6, 2010.)
I was 33 when I first dj’d “professionally”. As in, got a paying gig playing music.
Prior to that, I’d always wanted to play music. I’d always wanted to be a dj. To play music to people who would listen to what I wanted to play. I had visions of spinning tunes, songs I liked, connections I felt that I thought I could make others feel. I was in my 20’s when this desire first struck me. I then learned that radio dj’s are not allowed free license with music choice, and so I abandoned that option. Then one night, years later, I was out with a friend, on our way to the women’s bar, and she said, “Let’s see if they need dj’s”.
It was a Tuesday night. We were both slightly inebriated. It was a lark. I didn’t have high hopes, but thought What the hell? When we got there, we talked earnestly with the manager and her partner. Her partner, the one who was the club dj everyone bowed down to, said she’d give us a try. I was jazzed. And incredibly nervous. What the hell was I thinking? I couldn’t do this. Could I?
As it turned out, I was right to be nervous. Playing music for a crowd, playing music to set the mood, the tempo for the night, is not something to be scoffed at. It requires a level of attentiveness, and an appreciation and knowledge of current tunes and older, and an ability to segue those tunes smoothly and without seeming effort while judging the crowd’s mood, that really is a skill.
I was told that my job was to make sure people drank. That I was a conduit. Well, lesbians drink. No problem there. But lesbians also want to dance. To play the music, and shift the mood, and the crowd, according to songs, really required skill. I had to watch the crowd constantly. To bring the crowd up, and then bring them down, and then back up again, to ensure there was a constant turnaround between dancers and drinkers, that took skill and attentiveness.
You might not know that. You might not know how closely a dj pays attention to a crowd. The good ones do. Song choice is key. Scanning your crowd is hugely important to song choice.
A lot of dj’s are hugely self-involved. They play for themselves. Like they’re in their own livingroom and the songs they play are for themselves. Which leads to a really shitty night. Ask anyone who’s ever complained of the music at a club on any given night. If the dj is playing for themself, your night is gonna suck, music wise.
But when you have a dj who knows how to read the crowd, who can watch individuals, and the crowd as a whole, and spin the tunes to get almost each and every individual up at different times, now that is a good dj.
I was very good at what I did. I enjoyed what I did. Who wouldn’t enjoy getting paid for doing what never seemed like work? The women’s club I worked for was small (Ms Purdy’s, 110 capacity), but it was well known. I actually had a following for awhile. After that 6 year gig I went private, and made good money playing gay weddings and socials.
And then I lost interest. Not because I didn’t want to play music anymore. I did. I still do. But because I didn’t want to play and have drunks toss insults my way, and say I sucked, and could I please play better music, and oh yeah, I sucked.
The one thing my mentor told me about being a dj is that you get instant gratification. She was right about that. When you rock, you rock hard. When you suck, you suck hard. Instant gratification was cool. The downside was getting trashed. At two o’clock in the morning…when all the drunks want to do is complain you’re not playing another song for them, because they’re not ready to leave. And all you want, after playing music for 5 hours in their company is to go home.
I could play music until the cows come home (and usually did)…but it’s always nice not to be assaulted at the end, or during your shift. It takes skill and talent to play music for a night, to lend enjoyment to others night, and to take credit for that.
So why am I posting this? Just to say that you should know that sometimes, the one in charge of the music takes your night as seriously as you do.
That your dance is as important to her, as it to you.